Tin is a material we see frequently here at Encore Recyclers in Garland, but it’s also something that confuses a lot of people in the scrap industry. Luckily, we have all the answers regarding tin right here on our blog.

The name “tin” is misleading. Almost any “tin” material you’ll find at Encore or any other Garland scrap metal recycler isn’t the element tin, but actually very thin strips of steel.

But What About Tin Cans?

Yes, tin was historically used in tin cans, which were ubiquitous in much of the 19th and 20th centuries. However, even these cans were not actually made of tin.

Most often, they were made of steel, which was then covered (or plated) with tin. The reason for this is simple: tin does not corrode, but steel (especially cheaper, lower grade steel) does. It was cheaper for the canning industry to make cheap steel cans, then coat them with tin to make them weather-resistant.

This advancement of engineering was important to both the military (which used tin cans to feed soldiers on the move) and to the rise of major industry and mass production more generally.

Today, most “tin cans” of soup, beverages, and other canned goods are primarily made of aluminum.

Throughout much of human history, tin has been used to improve other metals in various ways rather than on its own. This is probably because the element tin is so rare. It makes up only about two parts per million of our planet’s crust.

Tin was used along with copper to make the alloy bronze, which was highly important in ancient history—so much so that historians call the time when it was most widely used the “Bronze Age.” In Bronze Age societies, bronze was used to make everything from tools to weapons to art.

Is Tin Recyclable?

Okay, that’s enough of a history lesson. Now, let’s move on to the present state of tin, and whether or not it’s recyclable.

Scrap tin, whether it’s thin steel or the actual element tin, is most definitely recyclable at scrap metal recyclers. In fact, “tin” as a descriptor for thin strips of metal such as those used in canning is a recycling industry term.

When preparing tin cans or other tin materials for recycling, be sure to clean them thoroughly—we don’t recycle soup—and separate them from other metals.

In order to check whether your tin cans should go in with your ferrous metals (metals that contain iron, such as wrought iron or steel) or non-ferrous metals (metals that do not contain iron, like pure tin, or more commonly, aluminum), you can use a simple test.

Apply a magnet to the surface of your material. If the magnet sticks, the material is ferrous. If the magnet does not stick, it is non-ferrous.

Most non-ferrous “tin cans” are most likely made of aluminum, so don’t assume you’ve found the rare element tin just because your magnet doesn’t stick to a material. However, the good news is that aluminum is a highly sought-after non-ferrous metal—and that all your ferrous metals (such as steel) are recyclable at Encore Recyclers too.